Carla’s comment on: Active Targeting of the Nucleus Using Nonpeptidic Boronate Tags

By Carla M. Quiñones

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The main objective of the research described in this article by Rotello and coworkers was to use a synthetic non-peptide targeting motif that accesses the nucleus of the cell through an active transport mechanism. Active and passive transport take place in the cellular membrane as well as in the nuclear membrane. Intracellular targeting is as important as cellular targeting due to their relevance in drug delivery and potential therapies. The two challenges faced by the research group was to deliver the nuclear-targeted protein into the cytosol and to comprehend the mode of nuclear entry. They delivered the protein successfully to the cytosol with the help of a previously synthesised nanoparticle stabilized particle, which encapsulated the proteins of interest and liberated them into the cytosol via membrane fusion. The most significant finding was the efficiency of targeting the nucleus when modifying each protein of interest with benzyl boronate tags (BB tags).
They performed experiments with different proteins modified with BB tags resulting in a successful high-efficiency delivery to the nucleus. To assess the role of boronic acid in the BB tags, they modified GFP with the benzyl tag alone and saw less fluorescence inside the nucleus. This suggests that the boronic acid is necessary in the BB tags for a successful nuclear targeting. Furthermore, they determined if the mechanism of transport into the nucleus was either active or passive. To accomplish this goal, they added Ivermectin, an inhibitor for the α/β importin pathway (active transport), to the cells and also depleted ATP (required for all active transport pathways) in another set of experiments. They delivered GFP with 3 BB tags in both cases and saw a lower nuclear efficiency. They concluded that these modified proteins targeted the nucleus effectively through the importin α/β pathway (active transport) rather than passive transport.
Through the last part of the paper, I was curious of how they acknowledged that this happened the way the proposed since they didn’t explain the mechanism behind the α/β importin pathway, nor the chemistry of how the BB tag contributes to the nuclear targeting. Intrigued by this, I searched more about this phenomenon, but found no relevant studies, probably because this is a novel research field. In general, this was a good article and useful to our lab since we work with supramolecular systems which, in the future, we could adapt this strategy to achieve nuclear targeting.


Diana’s comment on: Sequence heuristics to encode phase behaviour in intrinsically disordered protein polymers

By Diana Silva Brenes

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Relating molecular structure to function is the first step and one of the greatest challenge to understand nature’s designs or to make novel “functional designs” of our own. This paper by the Chilkoti group begins with statistical analysis of some of the most relevant proteins displaying LCST and UCST behavior. By analyzing the peptide sequences, the authors identify as common motif for both behaviors a high glycine & proline content. Furthermore, for LCST abundance of aromatic residues seems to be a requirement whereas UCST peptides seem to be encoded by a pair of zwitterionic residues.
To test if these observations lead to LCST/UCST phenomena, over 80 model peptides were recombinantly synthesized and their thermoresponsive behavior was measured by UV absorbance while changing the temperature. Each peptide presented the predicted behavior, giving support to their observations. Furthermore, by comparing a few selected examples, they show how an increase in hydrophobicity leads to an increased UCST cloud point and how eliminating one of the residues from azwitterionic pair turns a UCST peptide to an LCST peptide.
The LCST and UCST behavior is, however, a complex phenomenon dependent on protein-protein versus protein-water interactions, which in turn are modulated by more factors aside from the sequence of the protein. The possible scenarios are limitless, and the authors give insight on the most significant: peptide length, concentration, and pH (charge state of protonable atoms).
The robustness of the behavior encoded in the rules they found can be seen by a hybrid peptide containing both an LCST portion and a UCST one. The resulting peptide displays both behaviors, albeit at different temperatures from the “parent” sequences.
Finally, the authors show that searching for the characteristics they determined as important for LCST/UCST behavior throughout the human proteome produces examples of proteins whose function could very well be related to a thermoresponsive behavior, highlighting the applicability of their observations to understand the phenomena that make life as we know it possible.

Quiroz, 2015. Sequence heuristics to encode phase behaviour in intrinsically disordered protein polymers

Valeria’s comment on: Reversible Regulation of Thermoresponsive Property of Dithiomaleimide-Containing Copolymers via Sequential Thiol Exchange Reactions

By Valeria Burgos Caldero

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The main purpose of this article was to synthesize multi-responsive polymers that could be reversibly modified to adjust their LCST. Indeed, these researchers were able to develop a system in which multiple thiol exchanges were made, and in turn, they could determine how the thiols affected the transition temperature of the polymer. They used a copolymer containing P(TEGA) and DMMA. By performing transmission measurements at various temperatures, they concluded that as the thiol changed, the transition temperature of polymer varied depending on the resulting hydrophobicity. More polar functionalities increased the transition temperature and less polar ones decreased it. They were able to demonstrate the reversibility of the modifications since they managed to return to their original functionality after various thiol exchanges. Finally, they implemented a fluorescence signal to monitor the reaction progress. They found that thioglucose quenches the polymer’s fluorescence while making the compound soluble throughout the range of temperatures. With these findings, a wide range of possibilities were opened, since now, if you want a polymer for a specific type of function where a specific temperature response is needed, it is easily accessible by adding the corresponding thiol to the polymer solution. The mechanism of turning off the fluorescence may give access to reversible systems in aqueous conditions.
In general, I found it much simpler to prepare for this article than for the first one I presented. I feel that by doing these exercises of presenting scientific articles I have been acquiring maturity in the analysis process since it was difficult for me to understand articles in the beginning. Something that I found missing in the article is that they never explained the experimental procedure on how they achieved reversibility after adding different thiols to the same sample. I liked that they used common thiols, some of which we use in our research and others that maybe we could apply. In general, the article relates a lot to the research I’m doing with Diana. It could be useful to try to see the stimuli-responsive variations in the compounds that we are synthesizing. Maybe because it is related to variations in functionalities with thiols, similar to my own research, I found it more enjoyable to prepare the discussion and understand the material in the article.

Tang, 2016. Reversible Regulation of Thermoresponsive Property of Dithiomaleimide-Containing Copolymers via Sequential Thiol Exchange Reactions

Luis’ comment on: Guanidinium can both Cause and Prevent the Hydrophobic Collapse of Biomacromolecules

By Luis A. Prieto


Heyda, Jungwirth and Cremer collaborated in a study of guanidinium (Gnd+) salts and their effect in lower critical solution temperature (LCST). They studied molecular details of the cause of these transitions by IR-ATR and molecular dynamics simulation where they wanted to understand how Gnd+ salts interacted with the backbone of the Elastin-like peptides (ELP). In previous studies ELPs showed a change in LCST that followed the Hofmeister series in sodium salts but using Gnd+ salts proved to be different, especially Guanidinium thiocyanate (GndSCN) that at low concentrations the LCST decreases, but at high concentrations the LCST increases. They studied particular phenomenon using ATR-IR where they found GndSCN binds strongly with ELPs and resulted in an interesting behavior when the concentration of salt is increased. At low concentrations the polymer collapsed (salting-out) because of cross-linking of the peptide and at high concentrations resolubilization occurred (salting-in). Other salts followed typical behavior of salting-in (guanidinium chloride, weak binding) or salting-out (guanidinium sulfate, poor binding). Coarse-grain and all atom simulations corroborated this finding where they found particular detail of the interaction of the carbonyl groups of the peptide backbone with Gnd+, most likely through H-bonds.

The thermodynamics of this paper I found particularly interesting since it reminded me of everything that I have to re-learn.  An attractive experiment was that they used a melting point apparatus to measure the LCST, meaning the use of small amount of sample to gather fundamental information of the system which is also the case with ATR-IR. An elegant work and also inspirational since our lab works with responsive systems and we will definitively see if we can do the LCST measurement with a melting point instrument. I got to say that I particularly like the all atom simulations and Figure 5, where we can see in molecular detail the interactions of the salts with the peptide where thiocyanate and Gnd+ interact strongly with the hydrophobic parts (V, G) and hydrophilic part (peptide bond), respectively.

LAPC: Heyda, 2017. Guanidinium can both Cause and Prevent the Hydrophobic Collapse of Biomacromolecules